New Zealand needs to become "braver" about burning plastic if it wants to stop millions of plastic shopping bags being wasted, says a packaging body.
Packaging Council executive director Paul Curtis said there was no reason plastic wrap and shopping bags should not be burned for fuel.
His comments come as supermarket chain Foodstuffs and retailer The Warehouse embark on plans to charge shoppers for plastic bags to reduce the number going into rubbish tips.
The Packaging Council, which describes itself as "the industry's voice on policies affecting packaging and packaging waste", wants to reduce the environmental effect of packaging by promoting alternatives.
The Warehouse, Foodstuffs and the other main supermarket company, Progressive Enterprises, are members.
Plastic shopping bags can be turned into products such as road barriers and plastic reels.
The Warehouse and some Progressive supermarkets collect bags for recycling, but local body kerbside recycling collections do not accept them, and many end up in rubbish tips.
Bruce Gledhill of Recyclers of New Zealand said every home should have a separate kerbside recycling bin for cheese wrappers, meat wrap and other used plastic film that could be taken to coal-burning plants around the country.
Burning coal with the right kind of plastic was 30 per cent cleaner and much more efficient than burning coal alone.
Mr Gledhill said he had suggested his scheme to the Ministry for the Environment.
But the ministry's manager of sustainable business, Martyn Pinckard, said it did not support burning plastic because it released "particularly nasty" toxins unless it was done in a sophisticated plant.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said it was very difficult to burn plastic without releasing dioxin, a dangerous toxin linked with cancer.
"The best answer is not to use all that plastic packaging in the first place," he said.
The plastics industry wants burning plastic for fuel to be included as one of the options when the Packaging Council, retailers and the recycling industry renegotiate their 2004 agreement to reduce packaging waste.
The council says Denmark generates 16 per cent of its energy by burning contaminated plastic packaging, such as silage wraps.
Plastics New Zealand spokeswoman Dennise Chapman said the industry supported burning plastic only when it could not be recycled.
It had run successful preliminary trials burning plastics that were not able to be recycled in New Zealand, she said.
Recycling plastic into new products where possible was the more efficient option, Ms Chapman said.
Raw material supplier Rick Poynter said costly new facilities would be needed before plastic could be safely burned in New Zealand.
But burning used plastic with coal would be preferable to today's practice of sending it overseas.
YES AND NO ON CHARGES
The first big retailer to stop putting purchases into plastic bags in its stores says customers are generally happy with the change.
But other retailers spoken to by the Herald had no plans to charge for plastic shopping bags or ban them as part of a campaign to reduce waste.
The Warehouse stores began charging 10c for plastic bags yesterday.
New World, Four Square and Pak'n Save stores will begin charging 5c in August.
A spokesman for Bunnings Warehouse, which stopped using plastic bags in January last year, said most customers had been happy with the alternatives of recyclable woven bags or recyclable boxes.
"There are always people who don't really like change," said marketing manager Stanley Hebden.
"But we don't see a need to re-introduce them."
Bookstore chain Whitcoulls and convenience store chain Star Mart said they had no plans to ban plastic bags or charge for them.
Farmers managing director Rod McDermott said the department store chain offered to pack goods in degradable plastic bags or paper bags.
"Farmers will not be charging customers for shopping bags," he said.
Representatives from the GetReal environmental campaign petitioned Progressive Enterprises - which runs Woolworths, Foodtown and Countdown supermarkets - in Christchurch yesterday to follow rival Foodstuffs and charge for plastic bags.By Eloise Gibson Email Eloise